I must be getting a little jaded from all of the big budget science-fiction movies. Yeah, Star Trek was fun, but for every Star Trek, there’s a Dune, a Battlefield Earth, a Waterworld, a Stealth, and episodes 1, 2, and 3 of Star Wars, where most of the money went to the special effects department — Lord knows that it didn’t go into the scripts. Maybe that’s why I’m anticipating seeing Moon, which was shot for a budget of around $5 million (US). Unfortunately, since Moon isn’t playing near where I live, I’ll just have to wait for the DVD and get my low-budget science fiction fix elsewhere.
In fact, some of the classic science-fiction films were made on a modest budget (well, Hollywood has different standards about budget than most people). Take, for example, 1958’s The Fly, in which a scientist uses a device that is obviously the predecessor of Star Trek’s transporter before it’s been fully debugged. Seriously, this movie, which had a budget of $500,000 (US), has become part of western culture — just say the words “Help me!” in a high squeaky voice to prove it.
Not nearly as well known as The Fly is the 1974 film Dark Star, which was made for $60,000 (US). If you’re watching a John Carpenter movie marathon, Dark Star is a good place to start. Although it’s a comedy, it has a subplot that eerily foreshadows the 1979 movie Alien — well, that is if the alien was a beach ball with Creature from the Black Lagoon feet and wasn’t lethal, just annoying. The reason for this foreshadowing is that both Dark Star and Alien were coauthored by Dan O’Bannon.
As much as I like the previous films, my absolute favorite low-budget science-fiction film (or, for that matter, any science-fiction film) has to be 2007’s The Man From Earth, which was shot for under $250,000 (US). Completed on his death bed, it was the final work of the late Jerome Bixby. The Man From Earth tells the tale of college professor John Oldman, who weaves a convincing tale of being a 14,000 year old Cro-Magnon. The reactions of John’s friends and coworkers run the gamut of emotions from disbelief to anger to belief. The film keeps the truth hidden until the very end.
What are your favorite low-budget science-fiction films? List your picks in the discussion.